There’s Hope in My Sorrow
Stoner metal aficionados Mos Generator are out with a new LP on the most blandly-named label in history, Listenable Records. Don’t be mistaken; these are not stoners of the chilled-out, couch-locked variety. In fact, they have very strong opinions on morality and take great pleasure in “harshing your mellow.”
Abyssinia focuses on existentialist themes, good and evil, and the intrinsic human craving for religious meaning versus the crushing reality that there is often none to be found. This much is evident from the track names: cuts such as “Easy Evil,” “Wicked Willow,” and “Time and Other Thieves” send shivers of fear down the listener’s spine.
The album embodies all of these themes in its opener, “Strangest Times.” Lead singer Tony Reed ponders the inscrutable nature of our complicated existence over dueling guitars that start at a trot but pick up to a gallop by the minute mark. “I’m just a slave to the strangest times that I’ve ever known,” Reed croons. And yet, there is a strange, quasi-optimistic sense that builds up through the track, one that says that the pay-off will be immense if we can get through these strange times. “Push through the winter march and we’ll take Carthage,” the track seems to say.
Mos Generator is asking us to push through the bleakness of life to find these moments of vigor, vitality, and even triumph. It’s not about darkness, it’s about ecstasy. The band takes out a sharpie and underlines this message with its parting remarks in the closing track, “Outlander,” reminding its listeners that they can find “hope in [their] sorrow.”
Still, metal tends to focus on bleakness, and Abyssinia has this in droves. If you play “Catspaw” as background noise while conversing with a friend, expect the conversation to be sharply interrupted when Reed screams “I hate myself to sleep.” The core of the song seems to be mocking religion, with Reed arguing he gets better results from a superstitious talisman like an ordinary catspaw. “Horrible heaven, turn your back on me” could be interrupted as a lament that heaven has turned its back on him. But it seems more likely to have been written in the imperative sense, as in Reed is commanding heaven to turn its back on him.
At its most cheerful and inviting, Abyssinia sounds like AC/DC pumped full of sludge. If the incessant lyrical examination of good, evil, morality, and suffering eventually gets a little grating, the willingness of Mos Generator to experiment and improvise never does. “You’ve Got a Right” opens with a captivatingly original drum section that sounds like what would be played right before two members of an Amazonian jungle tribe fought to the death. “There’s no return from nowhere” combines ominous, yet twangy folk guitar riffs with the most explicitly death metal vocals of the entire album.
The record sounds like something engineered in a lab for a grad student in moral philosophy whose needs something a bit stronger than Adderall to stay awake. For everyone else, this is still a record that marries darkness with ambition and color. Given that this combination resembles the composition of most people’s lives in the 21st century, it is surprisingly intimate.